Emotional Intelligence

Psychology 101: The 101 Ideas, Concepts and Theories that Have Shaped Our World - Adrian Furnham 2021

Emotional Intelligence

Your face, my Thane, is a book where men may read strange matters. (Shakespeare, Macbeth)

Nature has given man one tongue, but two ears, that we may hear twice as much as we speak. (Epictetus)

Despite its popularity, and the fact that most people claim to have heard of it, very few can accurately define emotional intelligence (EI). Sceptics claim that ’charm and influence’ became ’social and interpersonal skills’ which then became ’emotional intelligence’. Social skills used to be defined in terms of sensitivity and flexibility: how sensitive a person is to social cues and how flexible they are in their responses to those accurately observed aspects of behaviour. Socially skilled individuals were seen as happier and healthier and generally more successful at work and in relationships.

However, the new term and concept EI ’chimed with the zeitgeist’ and became very popular. It has spawned a huge industry, particularly with those interested in success at work. Many books make dramatic claims: for instance that cognitive ability or traditional academic intelligence contributes only about 20 per cent to general life success (academic, personal and work) while the remaining 80 per cent is directly attributable to EI. By and large, there is little good empirical evidence to support these more wild claims.

EI can be discussed in terms of four parts: self and other emotional awareness and management. Thus it is partly defined as whether people are emotionally self-aware.

First, can you recognize and understand your emotional reaction to persons and places particularly where the emotions are powerful and unusual? Do you know why you have such strong emotions about certain friends or events? (Emotional Self-Awareness)

Second, are you able to accurately ’read’ the emotions of other people? Do you ’pick up’ on what others are saying non-verbally, ensuring you are highly perceptive? Are you psychologically minded? (Emotional Perceptiveness)

Third, can you manage your emotions? This is particularly important in social contexts where you need to be able to appropriately regulate your emotional responses to others. These include giving talks in public, receiving negative feedback and dealing with anger. (Personal Emotional Management)

Fourth, there is the issue of the management of the emotions of others. Are you able, when and where appropriate, to change the emotional state of others? Can you calm down frightened or angry people? Are you able to give people confidence in situations which acquire this? (Managing the emotions of others)

The emotionally intelligent person is aware of, sensitive to, and perceptive with regard to their own and others’ emotions. They are, in short, both emotionally literate and behaviourally flexible. They know how to manage — change, moderate, control — their own and others’ emotion. They know what to do when they or others are ’down’, frightened or aggressive. Being aware without being able to manage emotions is insufficient. It is obvious why this is so important in the performing arts.

Goleman’s popular book (1998) told a simple and interesting story about EI that helped explain its appeal. Technical training in any career is easy compared to teaching IQ skills. As an adult, it is comparatively more straightforward to teach a person the technical aspects of the job than the soft skills. The idea is that there is a critical period to acquire the basis of EI which is probably during early to late adolescence.

Hence the person may over time find solace in computers and other activities with a high skills/low contact basis. Thus, in early adulthood, they appear to be technically competent in certain areas (IT, engineering) but still rather undeveloped in people skills and more specifically emotional awareness and regulation. They may even be ’phobic’ about emotional issues and resistant to (social skills) training. It is also assumed that people are less able to pick up EI ’skills’ as well as less willing to try. To acquire technical skills often requires considerable dedication, so opportunities to acquire social skills (EQ) are, therefore, reduced. Then the low EQ person chooses technology rather than people for fun, comfort and a source of ideas because they do not understand emotions.


Psychometricians make a basic distinction between measures of maximum performance (e.g. IQ tests — right or wrong answers) and measures of typical response (e.g. personality questionnaires’ preference answers) with far-reaching implications. Self-report measurement leads to the idea of EI essentially as a personality trait (’trait EI’ or ’emotional self-efficacy’), whereas potential maximum-performance measurement would lead to ideas of EI as a cognitive ability (’ability EI’ or ’cognitive-emotional ability’). Thus trait EI and ability EI are two different constructs.

There exist currently well over a dozen trait EI type tests which look essentially like personality tests. On the other hand there are those who see EI as a ’real’ intelligence or ability that needs to be measured as such. The ’objective’ scoring is based on two types of scoring systems. The first is called consensus scoring, which is based on popular agreement. So, show a large group a photo and/or play music and ask them to identify the emotion of the person in the photo and the emotion engendered by the music. If 82 per cent think the photo shows the person is angry then that becomes the correct answer for the question. Equally, if 73 per cent say the music makes one maudlin then that is the correct answer. The second way in which it is hoped to achieve objective scoring is through expert scoring. Here, various researchers whose specialty is the emotions are asked to make judgements: i.e. do the test. Their scores are thought of as best. Both methods are used in conjunction to determine test scores.


Bar-On, R. (2004). The Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i): Rationale, description and psychometric properties. In G. Geher (Ed.), Measuring Emotional Intelligence: Common ground and controversy. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.

Goleman, D. (1998). Working With Emotional Intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Petrides, K.V., & Furnham, A. (2000). On the dimensional structure of emotional intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences, 29(2), 313—20.

Petrides, K.V., Pérez-González, J-C., and Furnham, A. (2007). On the criterion and incremental validity of trait Emotional Intelligence. Cognition and Emotion. 21, 26—55.